Scrappers’ and Minor League Baseball Season Canceled

NILES, Ohio – There will be no Minor League Baseball played this season, including the Mahoning Valley Scrappers.

“While we are incredibly disappointed that we are unable to play the 2020 season, we can now focus on planning an exciting season of Scrappers baseball at Eastwood Field in 2021,” said Jordan Taylor vice president of HWS Baseball and general manager of the Scrappers in a statement.

Major League Baseball informed the development league Tuesday that it will not be providing players this season. Combined with the threats from the coronavirus, it isn’t feasible to hold games this season, Minor League Baseball CEO Pat O’Conner said in a press conference Tuesday evening.

“We are a fans-in-the-stands business. We don’t have national TV revenues,” he said. “There was a conversation at one point: Well, can we play without fans? And that was one of the shortest conversations in the last six months. It just doesn’t make any sense.”

O’Conner estimated 85% to 90% of revenue was related to ticket money, concessions, parking and ballpark advertising. The minors drew 41.5 million fans last year for 176 teams in 15 leagues, averaging 4,044 fans per game.

O’Conner said many minor league teams had received money through the federal Paycheck Protection Program Flexibility Act.

“That was a Band-Aid on a hemorrhaging industry,” he said. “Many of our clubs have gone through one, two, maybe three rounds of furloughs. In our office here, we’ve had varying levels of pay cuts between senior management, staff, and we’ve furloughed some individuals, as well, and are just about to enter in a second round of furloughs.”

He hopes for passage of H.R. 7023, which would provide $1 billion in 15-year federal loans from the Federal Reserve to businesses that had 2019 revenue of $35 million or less and “have contractual obligations for making lease, rent, or bond payments for publicly owned sports facilities, museums, and community theaters.”

In addition, the Professional Baseball Agreement between the majors and minors expires Sept.. 30, and MLB has proposed reducing the minimum affiliates from 160 to 120.

“There’s no question that what the pandemic has done is made us somewhat weaker economically,” O’Conner said. “I don’t think it’s challenged our resolve. I don’t think it’s impacted our desire to stick together and get a good deal.”

There have not been substantive talks for about six weeks.

“There are very many teams that are not liquid, not solvent, not able to proceed under normal circumstances, and these are anything but normal circumstances given the PBA and the uncertainty of the future for some of these ballclubs,” O’Conner said. “So I think the coronavirus has really cut into many clubs’ ability to make it. And I think that we’re looking at without some government intervention, without doing something to take on equity partners, you might be looking at half of the 160 who are going to have serious problems.”

With the start of the season postponed due to the coronavirus, Major League Baseball is set to begin its “Summer Camp” – a second edition of Spring Training for players to get back into shape and practice with their teams – this week, with the season beginning July 23.

To accommodate the shortened 60-game season, teams are allowed to have 60-man rosters with 30 active players, up from the usual 26. Players are being tested for coronavirus symptoms ahead of and during the season and all personnel wearing uniforms – players and coaches – will take saliva tests daily. 

During the offseason, The New York Times reported that MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred was considering shrinking baseball’s American minor league system. Among the 42 teams on the list are the Scrappers, the short-season A affiliate of the Cleveland Indians, as well as eight other members of the 14-team New York-Penn League. 

In February, the team hosted a rally for fans to show their support of the team, which has played at Niles’ Eastwood Field for 20 seasons, and urge Manfred not to remove the team.

The Associated Press Contributed to this story.

Copyright 2020 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.